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Facebook faces criticism over its privacy policy

On the heels of a lawsuit settlement over user privacy, several advocacy groups complain to the FTC that the social network uses people's data for advertising without explicit consent.

A handful of civil liberties groups are claiming that while Facebook's new Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Data Use policy is supposed to give users more privacy, it's actually giving them less. And, these groups have taken their complaints to the US Federal Trade Commission.

Six organizations, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy, penned a letter (PDF) to the FTC on Wednesday claiming that Facebook's new policy allows the social network "to routinely use the images and names of Facebook users for commercial advertising without consent."

The changes to the way Facebook describes its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Data Use policy come directly from a class action lawsuit the social network finally settled last week. As part of the settlement, Facebook agreed to resolve for some previous ambiguity and state more clearly on its Web site exactly how it uses people's data for advertising. Essentially, Facebook's policy is that by signing up for the social network, users allow the company to "use your name, profile picture, and content" for ads.

"The right of a person to control the use of their image for commercial purposes is the cornerstone of modern privacy law," the groups wrote to the FTC. "It requires 'Alice in Wonderland' logic to see this as anything but a major setback for the privacy rights of Facebook users."

The six groups are asking the FTC to block Facebook's policy because they say it violates the terms of a 2011 privacy settlement with the FTC. However, Facebook says that it hasn't violated the settlement because it hasn't changed its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Data Use policy at all -- it has just changed the language it uses to describe the policy.

"As part of this proposed update, we revised our explanation of how things like your name, profile picture and content may be used in connection with ads or commercial content to make it clear that you are granting Facebook permission for this use when you use our services," a Facebook spokesperson told CNET. "We have not changed our ads practices or policies -- we only made things clearer for people who use our service."

So, previously the policy said, "We do not share any of your information with advertisers (unless, of course, you give us permission)." Now, the new policy clarifies the language to say: "We may use all the information we receive about you to serve ads that are more relevant to you."

Facebook's language changes to its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Data Use policy are currently up for review -- but not a vote. The social network plans to collect feedback on the revisions up through Thursday.